The Antiques Biennale: Tradition & Innovation


The Andy Warhol silkscreen portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth II, exhibited at the Antiques Biennale

Until October 2:  INTERNATIONAL ANTIQUES BIENNALE.  Palazzo Corsini, Lungarno Corsini.  Open 10:30 am – 8 pm. Admission €15, €10 by downloading or printing the Magenta Smart Card, and displayed at the entrance; free for kids under six.

Bridging the classic and the contemporary, Florence’s International Antiques Biennale (BIAF) will engage the birthplace of the Renaissance on the world stage.  The fair is regarded as one of the most acclaimed events dedicated to Italian art, as it attracts exhibitors and visitors from across the globe.  From the Florentine Renaissance to the international 20th century, the best of art and antiques will be on display.

Since its debut in 1959, the BIAF has displayed the refined classic taste that is embodied in the city of Florence itself.  Now after a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19, the 32nd fair returns until October 2.

Notable exhibits include a beautiful Andy Warhol silkscreen portrait of the late Queen Elizabeth II in addition to the sole Filippo Lippi work in private hands.

Treasures that one might never be able to see otherwise are now in the Palazzo Corsini, with approximately 80 galleries represented at stands within the esteemed rooms and halls of the 17th century venue overlooking the Arno River.  In just a few paces, guests can experience the magic of art as it exists throughout history going from viewing a 15th century work by Alesso di Benozzo Gozzoli to jumping forward in time and immersed in a new digital experience of modern art.

An oil on panel painting by Artemisia Gentileschi dates to 1640, and shows Mary Magdalene in meditation near a cave, her face turned toward heaven and the background a beautiful landscape.

The history behind this piece of art as well as the artist behind it are equally complex. During a time in which women were disadvantaged and had few opportunities to pursue artistic training in the professional world, Gentileschi is regarded among the most accomplished 17th century painters, becoming the first woman to be invited as a member of the Accademia delle Arte del Disegno in Florence.

When Gentileschi was 17 years old, she was raped by a friend of her father, Agostino Tassi, an incident that affected her reputation within the art world and her work itself.  Subsequently Gentileschi created works that reflected her lived experience, giving rise to a naturalistic approach that allowed her pieces to illustrate intense emotions and would captivate audiences for centuries to come.

Also present at the fair is a painting by Alessandro Rosi, who worked for Ferdinando de’ Medici and painted the cycle of frescoes at Palazzo Corsini in Florence between 1650-53.  Tragically Rosi died in an accident while walking on the via Condotta in Florence when a column fell from a terrace and killed him.

An innovative twist comes to the expo through Eternal Memories, transporting attendees to present day technological advances through the first docu-game in the world that aims to introduce younger generations to ancient art.  A docu-game, a digital simulation wherein the player experiences a fusion of the online world and reality, stimulates learning through game play.  The game, set in Florence during the 1966 flood, includes original footage recovered from the archives.  The flood was an unparalleled catastrophe for Florentine antique dealers, but the Antiques Biennale still went ahead as scheduled the following year.

The Eternal Memories app highlights how Florence inspires such a strong passion for art and spirit of solidarity on an international scale, as young people came from all around the world to help save its art after the flood.  Playable in Italian and English, Eternal Memories can be downloaded for free on all smartphones and iPads through the app store.

EY, the innovation partner of the BIAF, further links the expo to the future through an interactive museum space within the metaverse with exhibits from previous years of the fair.  EY also hosts a panel on the role of technology in the art world, connecting the celebration of classic works to the future of art as we know it.

The juxtaposition of modern art experiences and classic works in the same space reminds viewers how art has developed throughout the years, and how the value of classic pieces remains even as our new conception of artwork changes.

One of the featured pieces is a portrait of Giovan Pietro Bellori, a famous art critic in the 17th century.  Artist Carlo Maratti painted the oil on canvas portrait between 1672 and 1673.  Another titled “The Rigoli Altarpiece” illustrates the Madonna and Child enthroned between St. John the Baptist, St. Francis and angels.  It is the largest altar painting by Alesso di Benozzo Gozzoli among those known today.

While the fair commemorates classic Italian art, it also displays works that have shaped the taste of the modern art scene, including visions of Roman, Etruscan and other medieval sculptures and finds.

The antique items exhibited also represent a rich history, such as a carved and lacquered wooden dresser with a light blue background and floral decorations from 18th century Venice.

Portraits of Clement of Saxony and his sister Maria Josefa Amalia with a pair of extravagant porcelain vases are signed “Giovine 1822,” who was the most famous miniaturist of the Neapolitan porcelain factory around 1820, and author of numerous portraits of members of the royal family.

With the Biennale’s rich cultural program in combination with Florence Art Week, the entire city becomes an exhibition for the world to see.

The designer boutiques of Via Tornabuoni, the art and antiques galleries of Via Maggio, Via de Fossi, Borgognissanti and the jewelry shops of Ponte Vecchio will showcase the best paintings, drawings, sculptures, furnishings, ceramics and jewelry from every era.

“There is no doubt that Florence pioneered the art market as we know it,” said Fabrizio Moretti, Secretary General of BIAF.

In a gesture that honors family and the cultural heritage of Italy, Moretti and Eleonora and Bra Botticelli donated an altarpiece to the Cathedral of Sansepolcro to commemorate the memory of their parents Veria and Franco Botticelli and Alfredo Moretti. The altarpiece is by Durante Alberti and depicts the Trinity and St. Andrew, Mary Magdalene and Cristina.

Thanks to the financial support of the Antiques Biennale, the Fondazione Archivio Museo Richard Ginori of the Manifattura di Doccia has started an important restoration campaign for precious wax models that were severely damaged by humidity in the years following the closure and abandonment of the Ginori Porcelain Museum in Sesto Fiorentino.  (natasha sokoloff)